Sunday, March 13, 2005

On Connects - II

Part I of this post appeared ages ago - apologies for such a large gap!

And if you don't answer, then the booted bony thing with five toes on the end of my leg will soon connect sharply with the soft dangly collection of objects in your trousers.
- Edmund Blackadder to Baldrick, "Ink and Incapability"

It is the function of creative man to perceive and to connect the seemingly unconnected."
William Plomer

Problems with Connects - Quality

A lot of people hate and dislike connects. I think this is because either they've seen a lot of bad connect questions or just don't have the flair for it. I think the former has more to do with this aversion than the latter.

Q. Connect a picture of a newspaper, a collection of people, someone looking for something, images and so on.
A. Google - Google News, Groups, Search, Images etc.
[Quoted by Sohel from one of his bad quizzing experiences]

With questions like these, it's easy to see why connects have such a bad reputation. Anyone, in any which warped way, can collect 2 or more items and label it a connect. Worse, it isn't apparent to them that the question sucks. The mistake others make is to think this is a generic issue with connect questions. I would venture to guess that even the other (original) questions of such a quiz-setter would not pass any version of quality control, so it should be a reflection on the setter's abilities. Business quizzes have suffered from a similar problem of perception - there are so many of them that inevitably quality suffers and the genre is badmouthed leading a lot of people to believe that business quizzes cannot be interesting (which would be untrue).

At the same time, I do think that some quizzers (including good ones) somehow aren't naturally good at solving connect questions and seem distinctly uncomfortable with them. As a reflection of this, you would also not see connects in quizzes they set. Speaking from experience, I think it comes easy to some rather than others. Again, this shouldn't discriminate against the good connect question (which some of these quizzers are usually liable to look upon as a second-rate novelty) just because it doesn't fit into their style. Just because I am not that good at buzzer rounds shouldn't mean that I don't accept situations where they make sense (but that's a different discussion :-) ).

Another instance where quality is likely to suffer is when you have formats like Pyramidal Connects where the answers to groups of questions are in turn connected to form new answers and so on for about 2 or 3 levels. My observation is that it gets really difficult to sustain the quality of some of the questions. For instance, in one case, I was trying a pyramidal connection with the ultimate objective of connecting 4 questions whose answers lead to the 4 Holmes novels. For "scarlet", I had no option but to go for "colours of the red" as an intermediate answer with some good questions leading to it. I just couldn't help filling up some of the holes with not-so-good questions. The same was observed at Chakravyuuh 2002.

Possible Solutions

Creating good connections takes practice and experience. Many people have set appalling connections along the way, but have learnt to refine them from criticisms. It would be best to try out these questions on fellow quizzers or at local "net sessions" like at the BCQC. But don't upset formal & competitive quizzes by including suspect connect questions - atleast give it more intense scrutiny than other questions.

Remember that you can't just take a couple of items and find some vague subjective relationship that only you can see. For e.g., connecting the films of Shahid Kapur and Kareena Kapoor only because they're dating each other is a strict no-no!

Problems with Connects - Overuse

Another problem that surfaced spectacularly at the 2004 Chakravyuuh quiz was that the connection question was overused, especially at the cost of other more straightforward questions. About 50% of that quiz was made up of connects and as could be expected when there was such a deluge of them, many of them weren't good.

The Chakravyuuh quizzes have had a history of including more connections than probably any other local quiz. Where the organisers of the 4th edition slipped was in believing that a good quiz had to have a number of connects. Which is not true. A good quiz fundamentally needs to have good questions, be they connections or other types of questions, even the usual straightforward ones. This condition is always paramount, and connections need to fit into this framework. IMO, this is where the organisers goofed up. I was happy to note that in this year's Chakravyuh the connect questions were present and adequately employed, and most of them were decent to good.

In this sense, the connect question is like a googly or the doosra in a spin-bowler's arsenal. The doosra is best used sparingly in addition to the stock delivery which should always be consistent. If he overdoes the doosra, he becomes predictable and even monotonous. The good googly provides a nippy surprise and adds to the spell rather than distracting from it.

Possible Solutions

You don't have to include connects in a quiz set if you can't or don't want to. If people (especially senior quizzers :-) ) give you the impression that connects are a must, neglect that - it's more important to set a good quiz rather than spoil it by adding poor connects to the mix. But as mentioned earlier, no harm in trying some out in lab conditions. New entrants to the so-called "college quizzing" formats are usually eager to try these out to show they've "arrived", but caution is advised here!

Problems with Connects - Points breakup

A problem that usually accompanies connect questions (and doesn't plague regular kinds) is usually one of splitting points among teams when it takes more than one team to give a satisfactory answer. This happens all the while in quizzes, so here's an illustration:

Q. Connect Nusli Wadia, Christopher Lee, Alyque Padamsee
A. Jinnah (grandson, actor who played him in the biopic, actor who played him in Gandhi)
Suppose a team answers "Jinnah" but isn't able to give all three relations. Another team then fills in the remaining details. Now who gets the points? Should it be split among the two or given solely to the second (who may not have initially known it was Jinnah, but just based it on the earlier team's response)? There are a lot of headaches here for the quizmaster and invariably, this leads to carping among any affected teams.

There are several variations of this case: one team provides the "funda" (or the central idea behind the connect), others fill in the exact relationship between the elements. Or there are too many elements and not a single team can provide all the connections.

In several cases, split points are awarded to the teams such that the combined value exceeds the original value of the question! If in the above example, the first team got 5 for the connection and team #2 got 10 for saying the connection and the rest of the stuff, the value of the answer now is 15 rather than the initial 10. If the quiz is being held in a situation where every other question is strictly worth 10, this could cause a problem.

Possible Solutions

Principally, this issue crops up either when the question is actually too bulky to be effectively solved by one team or if the quizmaster isn't clear as to what aspects are important in the question. Some predetermination in this regard will help a great deal. The person asking the question should already be clear as to what he wants, and correctly informing the teams will prevent any suggestions of bias or ineptitude. For instance, declaring that the "funda" gets half the worth and that a satisfactory explanation gets the other half will help these decisions. Or keeping an extremely wooden face (watching some film starring any supermodel would help hone this) when listening to the teams and only awarding full points to the best answer could be the solution (though this is quite difficult in practice!). Whatever be the approach, being consistent throughout is of primary importance.

In terms of elements in the connect, connections where teams are expected to give the connection and make a satisfactory explanation of the relationships, as a thumb-rule I suggest not having more than 3 or 4 elements at worst. Also, while setting the question it is worthwhile pondering over whether some of these elements are really necessary and if they're there just to make the numbers. If so, it is best to cull them.

Like in many other areas, principles of simplicity and reducing unnecessary redundancies apply here as well.

Additional notes on types of connects

I have mentioned some kinds of connects in the last post, but while thinking on this topic, I realised there was one more distinction to make. Over the last few years, quiz finals have typically had questions shown on screen, and as a result a greater number of audio-visuals and visual connects (earlier, quizmasters would read out questions from their notes and perhaps have a special a/v round). Some of these connects tend to be different in what I call their depth.

Essentially, Depth indicates how much does one need to know about an element in the connect to make the connection. An example will help here:

Q. Connect Linus Torvalds, Lucille Ball, Gerhard Schroeder, Benjamin Franklin (paraphrasing a question from Quiz-o-mania 2005)
A. "Peanuts" characters - Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Franklin
Compare this to a question like:
Q. Connect a bird character from the Peanuts comics, Max Yasgur, Jimi Hendrix, Pt. Ravi Shankar (paraphrasing another question from Quiz-o-mania 2005)
A. Woodstock (a character from the comic, his dairy farm was the location, both played at the festival)
In the earlier question, one didn't have to know a great deal about Torvalds, Lucille Ball and the rest, for that wasn't the point here. Merely identifying them would do. While in the second case, simply identifying them wouldn't help - you needed to know a little more about the people. Actually the key difference is that Benjamin Franklin could have been replaced by James Franklin and it wouldn't have mattered.

Many connect questions are like this - in some, the answer has nothing to do with the people or items shown, only the labels or names contribute to the answer. In the latter case, you need to know a bit more about the actual elements in the question who are not at all substitutable. The first case is superficial - I would call it a lexical connection (instead of a pejorative "shallow") where the words by themselves are important, but not details of the elements the words are represented by. The second case is deeper, and rewards quizzers who have a deeper knowledge of the elements - perhaps it ought to be called a semantic connection.

When people say lateral connection (and I hear this term a lot), they usually seem to mean a "lexical" kind, because this isn't a straightforward one to answer if you've not realised its type. You spend a lot of brainpower trying to work out an improbably link between Torvalds and Lucille Ball (as we did :-)). I don't think it is necessary and even practical to announce this distinction while asking connect questions (unlike in the case of distinctions like "radial/cascading" where I feel the teams ought to be told), but atleast quizzers need to keep this in mind while attempting such questions. Another example pair to round this off, both by Gaurav and asked at Chakravyuuh 2001:

Q. Connect the films "First Blood" and "Junior" and the Olympics
A. Nicknames of Mark Waugh ("the forgotten Waugh/war", "Junior" and "Olympics" for his five ducks in a particular series)

Q. Connect the films "Paper Moon", "The Wedding Planner" and "Blue Lagoon"
A. Tennis wives, also actresses - Tatum O'Neal, Mrs. Sampras (!), Brooke Shields.


Well, reviled or not, connects are here to stay. People making connect questions are exhorted, for the sake of the mental health of quizzers & their own physical well-being, to invest the same (if not more) amount of diligence and care as they would for "normal" questions. Connects can be subjective beings, so get feedback if you can on their quality before you trust your own judgement. If you believe as I do that quiz questions are meant to be answered and not to show others what puny intellectual mortals they are, then approach connects such that they can be answered by teams on the basis of their knowledge and intelligence.

While asking connects, always expect stones. Always!

From now on, I'll connect the dots my own way.
- Calvin, "Calvin and Hobbes", Bill Watterson

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